The Look

What is hiding behind that mole?

Josephine Halvorson, Gun Holes. 2012, oil on linen.15 x 19”. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

3960 Lt. General Domingo Perón Avenue: the Ronald McDonald House. Kamtchowsky and Miguel had agreed to meet here at six in the afternoon; she’d figured that just because he had Down’s didn’t mean he’d make her wait an hour, which of course he did. Regardless, K had something to read to keep herself entertained, and was perfectly comfortable — her ass was only the slightest bit wider than the stair on which she sat.

The text she had in hand had been a most fortuitous acquisition. On her way to this date with Miguel, Kamtchowsky had descried a hamster-colored mane next to the ticket machine in the Malabia station on the B line. They hadn’t seen each other in months; her mother gave her a kiss, asked how she was doing, and informed her that she was on her way back from a meeting with the guys at the publisher. She had with her the proofs of Aunt Vivi’s diary, and the book was almost ready. Do you want to have a look? Her mother’s little claws, the hamstery hair on her forearms, the manuscript held out. Kamtchowsky took it with a smile. Vivi’s notebooks had been her favorite thing to read as a child, not counting Emilio Salgari, the Sissi comic-book series, the sagas of female inmates, and Che Guevara’s diary, and also not counting the casuistic tomes of child psychiatry that infested the local library. Then when she was 12 or so, her mother had hidden the treasured notebooks and forbidden her to read them, without explaining why. And now the two women — who looked so unalike that no one would have taken them for mother and daughter — said their quick goodbyes.

Dear Moo:

On Monday I pulled on some jeans and an Oriental-style camisole, put on my new blue eye shadow, and headed out. I’m tired, Moo, and it feels wrong to keep myself hidden safely indoors, cursing my country’s fate. I feel like I have to do something, like the current situation is unsustainable, like something’s got to give. I met up with Fernando, the dark-skinned guy from the unit, remember? We sang beautiful songs about love and the battle for justice. He doesn’t know that I’m a member of the Pro-China Insurgency Alliance — I’m pretty sure he thinks that any day now I’m going to sign up with his group. Anyway, I don’t think we’re going to be seeing each other much longer. Something pretty awful happened, Moo. I don’t even know if I should be telling you this. We had sex. It was great. The problem was that he wanted me to give him, well, a fellatio, with my mouth, on his penis. I’d done it before with L., and before that just once with Juan Carlos. Fernando and I were kissing and he grabbed my head and pushed it downward, softly but firmly. I stopped right there in front of his thingy, so nervous that I started to laugh. It was as if his dong was looking at me, saying hello like some friendly caterpillar, coming happily up to see me as I went down. It was still half-covered by its little forelock, and Fer (he always asked me to call him Fer) gave me a small, seductive smile. Then he started reciting a poem by Nicolás Guillén:

I’m impure, what do you want me to say?

That I love (women, naturally,

my love dares to speak its name),

and I love to eat pork with potatoes,

and garbanzos and chorizo, and

eggs, chicken, veal, turkey,

fish and seafood,

and I drink rum and beer and cane liquor and wine

and I fornicate (even on a full stomach).

Fernando was still licking my ear at this point, and started kind of singing the poem, quietly (and with the accent of a Spaniard, though Guillén, as far as I know, was from Cuba):

I believe that there are many pure things in the world

that are nothing but pure shit.

The purity of clerics.

The purity of academics.

The purity of grammarians.

The purity of those who assure you

that you have to be pure, pure, pure.

The purity of those who’ve never had gonorrhea.

The purity of the woman who’s never licked a glans.

Whoa, I thought! Nice way to make a “suggestion”! I gathered myself up to kiss him on the mouth, and I lifted my skirt to show him that I wanted it too, that I desired him, that we were still going to have sex and there wasn’t any reason to make a big deal about it. What?! he said. You’re not going to do it? (He was talking about the other thing.) He said that I was a prude, bourgeois down to the marrow. That he’d thought I was different. That there is no sensation more beautiful than feeling the happiness spurting up out of someone else’s body, and that he regretted having been so honest with me. But really, what was he thinking? That being honest and “winning” are synonyms? I told him that he was completely wrong. That I am a true revolutionary, and a member of the Pro-China Revolutionary Insurgency Alliance. He didn’t believe me, so I showed him your official Party photographs and your Little Red Book. His face went deadly serious, and he started in with, Well, of course, of course you’re one of those craven Sepoy leftists. He said that any serious Marxist analysis of the Argentine situation would demonstrate the unrenounceable responsibility to unite with the Peronist masses. That I’m not on the side of the people and never will be. That I’d better get rid of all my Maoist books and photos or I’d end up in serious trouble. I felt awful. The argument kept getting louder and louder — one more second and he’d have shouted that I was some punctilious imperialist pro-Yankee protofascist bimbo.

Son of a bitch. I just don’t get them, you know? I can’t, I can’t . . . Talking to you like this, having to talk to you like this, it seems like some macabre joke. Because you’re a man too. I don’t even want to think about this, don’t want to, I want to act as if . . .

Later, looking for a little support, I met up with some people from the Alliance. Alcira and I drank a few mugs of maté, and she told me about L. She said that he’s dating someone named Silvina. I got pissed off and told her everything. She said that I should go find this Silvina and settle things with her. That you can’t trust men. That if Silvina was a full-fledged revolutionary and knew that L. was my man — well, if she was truly a revolutionary, she’d be in favor of abolishing private property, would say that if you’re happy thinking of him as yours, then fuck you, go ahead and think it all you want, but nobody belongs to anyone else. Anyway, Alcira said, in the end your little speech might get out of hand, but Silvina’s the one who would end up walking away. There are tons of guys out there, she said, especially in the Montoneros, tons of cute guys, much cuter than L. (I didn’t get mad when she said this — she was just trying to make me feel better.) The thing is, I said, I’m all in favor of personal liberty, and, God, abolishing private property, that goes without saying, but the problem is that I don’t feel the need to be with any body except his; what I want is to be with him, and if I felt the need for someone else, well, I’d sign right up for open relationships and everything else, but I’d do it for real, I’d totally commit to it, not just say “fine” with a nod while my mind was somewhere else. The thing is (this is still me talking to Alcira here) L. would say that I’m contradicting myself, that I can’t fight for the principles of social change out in the street and then totally forget them once I’m back inside my comfy little house. Because the revolution is needed everywhere, Moo, and whoever doesn’t like that can get as mad as they want and then get lost. So I said, Fine, Alcira, why don’t we heighten the contradictions? I’m going to find L. and say, If you don’t want to be with me, tell me and we’ll end things once and for all, good-bye to what we’ve shared, good-bye to our projects, and give me back all those Benedetti and Rimbaud books I lent you. Well, said Alcira, OK, but you don’t have to be so drastic. I thanked her for talking with me — she’s the only one besides you, Moo, that I can talk to about these things. She told me to be careful about keeping a diary, that they can end up as evidence against you. Then she leaned back in her chair and gave me a serious look.

Later I realized she must have told them everything, because the next day they called a meeting and said that as Party militants we couldn’t hold on to personal documents that might put anyone at risk — our comrades, ourselves, the Party itself; that as residents in a bourgeois society that has a century and a half of experience in total domination, we have to remain vigilant, able to foresee any and all reactionary violence on the part of the consorts of power, and so on and so forth for two hours.

They don’t want me to write to you, Moo. The Party has forbidden the writing of texts documenting the past. They forbid the use of memory, Moo, and many of them don’t understand that a revolution is built of both ideas and blood. The blood of thought, and the thought of blood. All the same, I know that Alcira had the best of intentions, that she did what she did because she felt it was her duty to protect me. I don’t feel betrayed. She’s a good comrade, and supports the revolution with all her might. The day that girl loses a little weight she’s going to find a bunch of guys attracted to her kindness and intelligence.

I am so worried, Moo. I read and read all day long to get away from that feeling of anxiety. I just finished Eduardo Galeano’s Vagamundo. Alcira told me that a friend of hers had hooked up with him at work, a girl who works at Crisis. (Guess who it was! Ha ha, yeah, Marisa, who always seems so prim and proper!) Galeano is a complete intellectual, totally committed to the cause. Just like Sábato, only cuter. Apparently Galeano likes to date several women at once. Still, it seems to me that Marisa is responsible for whatever happened. She gave herself to him too quickly. And look, he’s a really great guy, maybe twenty years older than her, and Marisa, you whisper two words in her ear and boom, she’s flat on her back, legs spread, giving up the treasure. My case is totally different from hers. L. and I had just made our way together up a long, long path of ideas, convictions, projects we’d worked on together; it’s not like one day we started merrily screwing our brains out and the next day I was complaining about him not respecting me. And also, L. and I are almost the same age, while that other guy is maybe twenty-five years older than Marisa. Boy, I don’t know, Moo, all this talk about the miseries of others has me thinking about L., but from a place where there are no hard feelings, where peace is the only goal. Peace, that’s what I need. I want to leave behind everything that follows you around and fucks with your head, and dedicate myself to just being alive. I’m going to sign up for a physical-theater course. That will help, will do me good.

On top of all that, I have to get a root canal. While I was at the dentist’s office, I was paging through a copy of Para Ti (believe me, Moo, the situation was dire — my only other options were Great Chess Moves and Today’s Textiles), and I happened to open the magazine right to a personality test called “What Is Hiding Behind That Mole?” There was a drawing of a face covered with numbers; each number stood for a mole in that same place. I copied down the meanings of the ones that really caught my eye — actually, they’re the moles that L. has.

5. Marriage to a celebrity, or at least to someone extremely important.

20. A sense of family.

29. You feel the need to express your sensuality.

21. Be careful around water.

43. You love your independence.

30. You’re vulnerable to flattery.

9. Predisposed to significant blows to the head.

36. A strong sense of order.

34. Erotic nature. If it’s close to your nostril, that indicates a fate filled with danger.

35. Passionate, willful, irresistible.

40. Physical love predominates over sentimental love.

39. Happiness (of every kind).

It seems to me that 36 and 43 contradict one another a bit. Especially considering that L.’s biggest mole corresponds to 20. Unquestionably, though, 30, 43, and 29 all point at the same thing. Even if 29 is maybe a freckle, not a mole. Is 40 dominating his life just because he happens to be going through a particularly shitty period? Or is it the other way around? 9 is so weird. Is that what’s going to happen to him? Will that mole disappear over time? 34 is totally true. L. has always been very passionate (35 ) and his eyes glow with the promise of an amazing future. I hope he never reads 5.

Next I read my horoscope, and copied it down to see what you think of it:

Miss Sagittarius, and Her Relation to the Other Signs — Week of August 23.

With Mr. Taurus: You will find it difficult to control his love of independence. Mr. Taurus is extremely jealous, so your relationship with him will be tumultuous. He wants you to be an integral part of his life, to renounce your own independence and rights. You will become furious, and will tell him so. The two of you will wound each other. If your mutual regret is sincere, the relationship may be able to turn the page. But it would not be unusual if within a week you were once again starting from scratch. YOU MUST: leave your whims at the door, and make an effort to control your impulses. Remember this! Danger of the Week: making “intimate” confessions. Be very careful! Advice: date optimists.

It’s true, Moo, that we have wounded each other. L. and I, and also Fernando and I — they’re both Taurus. I got a little worried, not because of what the horoscope says, but just remembering what happened. I also think that we women have much more responsibility than it might seem at first glance. It’s as if we have somehow been assigned two missions, one of peace and one of class struggle — we’re never allowed to drop our feminine role as the one who provides love and security, yet we’re responsible for destroying the bourgeois structures of alienation that limit us in so many ways (limit us as human beings, I mean). The dentist still hadn’t called me in, and I kept reading. Next it was the “Secrets from the Confessional” section.

Ema, from Barrio Norte: I’m 24 years old, married, two kids, a good job. But one day my husband and I had an argument about how much time I spend on the telephone, and since then he’s started drinking too much, and hitting me. What can I do?

Para Ti: Under no circumstances should you let him hit you. That is a serious crime, and you never should have allowed it. But you also shouldn’t have provoked such a violent attitude. Why do you spend so much time talking on the telephone, and with whom? I would also try to find out why he’s drinking. Did he drink heavily before the marriage — is he an alcoholic? If so, the family doctor must step in, and you must summon all of your feminine prudence and love. Or did he start drinking because he’d stopped trusting you — to choke back his jealousy and disappointment? Accept your responsibility as a wife and as a mother, and seek complete reconciliation with him, based on a deeper, more loyal, and fundamentally more serious mutual understanding.

Dear Moo,

I found out who she is. Her nom de guerre is Inés. Her comrades call her Inés, or la Flaca Inés. She’s in the Evita Group of the Women’s Branch of Precinct 13. In order to date her, L. would have had to execute counter-pursuit maneuvers. He met her at El Ateneo on November 20. She also works with the union coordinator. She’s very committed to the hard line within her party. I’ll bet it excites him to have to execute counter-pursuit maneuvers. She must be a very brave girl, no argument there. Each of us has our own form of bravery. She must have excellent contacts. Personally, I’m more, shall we say, discreet. But as for my plan, there’s nothing cowardly about it. Quite the contrary. You won’t find it written in any manual, and it hasn’t been approved by any Party leader, or any horoscope for that matter.

Ah, so, I went to sign up for physical theater but the class was already full, and they weren’t taking any more names. I don’t want you thinking I leave all my projects half-finished, as others might say, others who shall go nameless — perhaps, maybe, because I’ve already named him too often, because I can’t think about anything else, because I’m hurting and it kills me, Moo, to be incapable of transcending all this, of feeling like my anguish might some day be transformed into something vibrant, something beautiful, something that will last.

I know that Inés’s cover involves a job in Avellaneda, near one of the slums. To get there I’ll have to cross the bridge there at La Boca, I don’t know what it’s called. I’ll have to take the 152 and get off at the last stop. I’m going to track her down, and I’m going to say it, I’m going to tell her that L. is mine. Who does she think she is? You know what, Moo? If I go and find her and cuss her out, that’s not violence, that’s justice.

Kamtchowsky broke off reading; it surprised her to realize that just the mention of the bridge had created in her mind the image of Vivi hit by a burst of gunfire, collapsing on the bridge. In Kamtchowsky’s imagination it looked a lot like Puente Alsina, which had recently been repaired and repainted yellow. In fact she’d never seen the bridge at La Boca, and the image in her mind was from a music video, the punk band Dos Minutos, their album Valentín Alsina. But that can’t actually ever have happened.

Just then she saw Miguel. Instead of his McDonald’s uniform, he was wearing an Eminem T-shirt, and had a little Maradona-style earring. He came across the street and held out a bouquet of freesias. Kamtchowsky noticed that he’d put gel in his hair to get it to stand up straight. His leather pants were quite tight, and he looked very confident, very calm. The sight produced neither fondness nor disgust; Kamtchowsky’s stunned mind was still caught in the imagined landscape of her aunt’s death.

She smelled the flowers, and Miguel said something that she didn’t quite catch. He mumbled on and on. And now she saw a long thin object emerging from under his belt.

It was a Luke Skywalker lightsaber, glowing, greenish. Miguel smiled with satisfaction. Then he let out a textbook Down’s laugh.

“You’re Leia.”

Kamtchowsky laughed too. Maybe having a little fling with a Down’s kid wasn’t such a bad idea. She’d read that they tended to be much stronger than average guys. And, she wondered, were they also more in touch with their primal instincts? Less addled by their culture? Her young lover slashed at the air with his lightsaber. No one had ever compared her to Leia before; she made a mental note of his kind observation and decided not to look at his pants again.

They rang the doorbell. No one had been informed that they were coming, but Miguel’s presence seemed to explain everything, and they were invited into the main dorm.

The Ronald McDonald House system is staffed by volunteers, and offers lodging to the families of children from the provinces who have come to the city for medical treatment. People were playing cards and sipping maté, and there was a bulletin board covered with felt-tip drawings of suns, little houses, clouds, rainbows, and other icons of childhood optimism — fruit of the creativity of organisms riddled with illness.

Kamtchowsky walked thoughtfully around the premises. She was wearing a black turtleneck that gave her a certain existentialist vibe and also made her neck itch. Miguel was a bit fidgety and did a brief rap of observations as they climbed the stairs. An only child, the word retarded was not to be found in his vocabulary; nonetheless, he’d always felt a bit different. Of course, like other kids his age he’d grown up believing he was surrounded by robots. He set little traps for them, leaving things where they didn’t belong; later he’d return and see that once again the robots had put everything back in place. Thanks to his mother, an educational psychologist, he grew up strong: he played with dogs, drove the housekeepers crazy, and destroyed his toys just like any other kid his age. All the same, he recognized that just as his legs were growing too long for his pants, the gap distancing him from the rest of the world was growing wider; perhaps at the chromosomal level he understood what it was that separated him from others.

Being designated a special kid had allowed him to establish a sense of self in the context of a meticulous and profoundly generous affection which he believed was his by rights. Down’s or no Down’s, he seemed simply to assume that he was always in control of his situation. Defective synaptic connections notwithstanding, it was more his indifference to Kamtchowsky’s mental conditions that put him at a disadvantage. She decided to try to start a proper dialogue — maybe hearing his Downsy voice would get her back on track.

“Miguel, don’t you sometimes have horrible thoughts that follow you around everywhere you go?”

Miguel shrugged.

“Yeah, sure. Sometimes I talk to my psychoanalyst about them.”

“Your . . .”

“But I don’t worry about them. She just gives me the sweet pills, the ones like Prozac.”

“The ones . . .”

“They help you grow up strong. Look, right now for example, see how my wiener is growing?”

“That’s enough, Miguel, people are staring at us.”

They were walking behind a woman in a blue apron; openings all along the main hallway let them see into the comfortable little rooms where the families had carefully stashed their belongings. There were also rows of little beds that hadn’t been slept in, their sheets in stridently bright colors, some of them hardly ever put to use by the sick kids in Ronald’s care. Kamtchowsky walked confidently from one side of the dorm to the other. She felt just like she had the day she first heard the Roxette song “The Look,” and started mimicking it in her gaze and gestures. It couldn’t really be said that the combination of Kamtchowsky and “The Look” was creating a significant fan base or thickening anyone’s warm penile mass; it couldn’t even be said that it was getting her any particular attention from the young patients around her. Kamtchowsky exchanged skeptical glances with the most charming of them. Would there come a time when they would tire of calmly accepting their condition? When they would try to entertain themselves by hurting others, for lack of better options? She imagined that even their healthiest thoughts might occasionally take such a turn as they wove among malformed sensations.

Meanwhile, Miguel was slashing around with his lightsaber, and making Downsy gestures at the back of the woman in the blue apron. Yes, he was the coolest Down’s kid in all of Buenos Aires; he had it all, in his way, and not a care in the world. If Kamtchowsky were to accept the task of translating Miguel’s facial expressions into propositional language, the idea of a quick fuck in the supply closet would definitely have gone through her mind. Miguel aroused her, but what was the best way to react? Then she heard an alarm of sorts — the melody of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was Miguel’s cell phone, and he set off into a moonwalk, grabbed his crotch, had a look at his phone to see who was calling, and decided not to answer.

—Translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey

—Translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey

More from Issue 21

Issue 21 Throwback

One’s leisure time feels like work that one doesn’t have time for.

Issue 21 Throwback

Unionization had been rare in the industry because it cultivated “an aura of gentility which leads to self-deception.”

Issue 21 Throwback

Some of the most educated and skilled people in our society are among the most exploited workers.

Issue 21 Throwback

“The New Yorker is strong, but at the same time it is fragile. For everybody’s sake, I hope we will do nothing to hurt it.”

Issue 21 Throwback

It was a climate of fear for a bunch of delicate orchids.

Issue 21 Throwback

The work seemed to slide into Friday, while the money stopped on Thursday.

Issue 21 Throwback

Was the magazine exploiting everyone? It sure felt like it.

Issue 21 Throwback
Destiny, USA
Issue 21 Throwback
The Raw and the Rawer
Issue 21 Throwback
The Next Next Level
Issue 21 Throwback

Let’s face it: there’s nothing cool about someone else’s sentimentality.

Issue 21 Throwback

“There are also men in the world,” Lydia Davis reminds us. As if we could forget.

Issue 21 Throwback

Sci-Fi offers the best example of that distinctively 21st-century blend of affect: eagerness and wistfulness. YOLO + FOMO.

Issue 21 Throwback

I frequently say “Check your privilege” as a polite proxy for “Shut your fucking racist mouth.”